From Les Escoumins we made our way into the Saugenay park system proper, with a lovely stop for breakfast in the village Sacre Couer, when Val spotted the words “Café au Lait” just as we were making our way through town.
It so happened we had not had any breakfast, nor any coffee, to that point.
I realize it may sound like all I spend a lot of time thinking about coffee. I suppose I do, but to clarify, I enjoy exactly one cup of coffee every day, in the morning. I have a taste for it, and it turns out that the good stuff is remarkably good, and on balance the stuff is basically good for you – antioxidants and all that stuff, and as far as caffeine goes, a dose of it once a day has pretty much zero adverse effects.
Now, Café au Lait takes the coffee thing one step further – by steaming the milk, the natural sugars become slightly more pronounced in flavor, and it doesn’t hurt that the milk is typically whole milk, so there are that may extra milk fats traipsing around your mug.
And, in this little blue farmhouse that Val spotted at a bend in the road, not only was there Café au Lait available, but it was served the way nature intended it to be served – in lovely, tapered, thick ceramic bowls that force you to cup both hands to drink, almost as though you’re giving thanks, and as the heat of the coffee warms your hands the large mouth of the bowl delivers the delicious aroma of the coffee and the steamed milk fully to your nose, and you take a huge mouthful, and you are a very, very happy person.
Just when things could not have got any better, the matron dropped by our table to take our breakfast order and she explained that the specialty of the house was “Griffles” which I asked her to explain, and thanks to my ineffective French, I basically got “really phenomenal fat pancakes”.
So we ordered a bunch without really knowing what we were in for, and it turns out that griffles are waffles, which basically constitute the girls’ single most favorite breakfast of all time. Sylvie was confronted with a giant raspberry waffle with hordes of fresh berries tucked inside, a small bowl of raspberry compote, a side of fruit salad and, at her insistence, some bacon.
Leonie had a plate of chocolate and banana waffles arrive, Val had some marvelous combination of apples and caramel, and because I couldn’t stop myself I had ordered the “Trucker”: and before me was laid a plate with a waffle, on top of which was a jumble of fried, shredded potatoes, a slice of ham, two fried eggs, cheddar cheese, and a handful of frisee.
Our collective familial jaw dropped at this unexpected bounty.
Sylvie said, and I am quoting here, “OK – somebody punch me in the face. Gently.”
After a lazy breakfast and with storm clouds rushing in at us low over the mountain tops, we hit the local supermarket to refuel while Val and I fretted about whether or not it was going to rain on us while we were setting up camp.
By the time we made it through the check-out, the wind had picked up meaningfully and we figured we had our answer as sheets of rain were coming down sideways.
But, we pressed on another 30 kilometers or so until we found our campground, at Baie St Marguerite – a Provincial Park that offers the possibility of spotting belugas from land who seem to enjoy clustering at the mouth of the bay.
The campsite itself was quite primitive, offering simply a single toilet facility (a pit toilet at that, so no sink or running water). But the sites themselves were large, private, well arranged and the second the girls leapt out of the truck the announced it was the best campsite ever – they discovered a smallish network of smallish paths through the woods to the other sites in the park, so basically disappeared completely while Val and I set up camp.
Now, the rain had paused and the two of us got down to business – setting up in the rain, which we have done, is awful because the pressure is on to do it quickly and further, you momentarily expose everything you have to the rain. So, putting a damp sleeping bag into a damp tent leaves you with the knowledge, for the rest of the day, that you will indeed be sleeping in a nice, clammy sleeping bag that night.
At this point, however, Val and I are pros.
The truck was largely unloaded and within a half an hour we had the tent up, our clothes and sleeping bags squared away inside, our screen shelter up and over the picnic table, and were even squabbling about the fact that I had (foolishly) only purchased two bottles of wine for a three night stay).
Then, while the wind held strong, the clouds broke and we figured we’d go ahead and try our luck at spotting some whales.
The hike itself is on a clearly marked trail, with no meaningful elevation changes, and is 3 kilometers out and another three back. To a couple kids who had just recently summited Mont Jacques Cartier in the rain and wind, it was child’s play.
The hike was great, wooded largely by poplars that flanked the bay, and the girls finally had a chance to stretch their legs.
A pretty serious suspension bridge spanned the river, and as we watched it sway in the wind, Val asked if it was safe.
“Of course it’s safe” I insisted to her, almost dismissively. Halfway across the bridge, Val pointed at a large steel transom partly submerged in the river about twenty yards upriver and asked what I thought it was.
It was the wreckage of a suspension bridge.
The wind was crazy, it whipped the waters into whitecaps and pretty much guaranteed we wouldn’t see any whales, but the sun came out and we were too hot and too cold simultaneously, and the girls scampered around and explored the beaches and woods, completely happy.
When it was time to go, Sylvie reminded me that the small Park Center at the trailhead had ice cream, and she also reminded me that she liked ice cream, and that she expected to get some ice cream.
Off we went, the girls alive and energized with the thought of an ice cream pulling them on, as they raced and tumbled through the woods and back over the bridge.
They ran up to discover the door locked… the outpost closed early that day, and we had missed it by a matter of minutes.
Sylvie was understandably disconsolate, the joy of her morning waffles completely forgotten, and pointed out that I had let her down as a father, and burst into tears that would only abate at the campfire later that evening.